Recently on national television demographer Frank Luntz brought together a focus group of young American Muslims to discuss the fears and frustrations they feel over being unfairly linked with radical Islamists whose terrorist activities and motives they regard as unrepresentative of their true religion.
It was an interesting session with a group that admittedly faces the difficult job of convincing their fellow Americans at this time of growing concern about the real threat of terrorism that they are as dedicated to the nation as any other citizens who practice a different faith. Selling their message has been made tougher by the killing of 14 in San Bernardino by a radicalized Muslim husband and wife team, one of whom also was an American, and by the reaction to that horrific event of millions of non-Muslims across the country – the worst since 9/11.
At about the same time Luntz and his group were baring their souls on CBS, school authorities on the advice of law enforcement officials in Augusta County Virginia were closing the 10,000 student system because of virulent rage over a teacher’s assignment that many parents apparently believed was an attempt to indoctrinate their children in the ways of Islam. The teacher had asked her high school geography students to attempt to write an Islamic expression of faith in Arabic calligraphy.
The response from across the country was swift and angry and included phone calls, email diatribes and threats to school authorities, including apparently one to put the teacher’s head on a stake. The superintendent decided to close the schools as the content and volume of the threats grew during the week. The Washington Post quoted a spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations as saying that the Augusta County situation was “symptomatic of the hysterical anti -Muslim bigotry that we’re seeing in America at this current time.”
The hysteria has been heightened by calls from Republican presidential contenders to ban all Muslims wishing to enter the country or to require registration of all Muslims and other restrictive measures.
Not many days before the Virginia incident, the nation’s second largest school district, Los Angeles, took similar steps after receiving a threat that its schools were facing attacks that could result in unknown numbers of casualties. The same message was sent to New York City and elsewhere, but authorities there after studying the language of the threats declined to follow suit.
Where does all this take us? The reaction by Americans is quite natural and further prompted by legitimate warnings from local, state and national law enforcement officials to be on constant alert for suspicious acts or indications of possible terrorism. Are there Americans who have been seduced into considering and even plotting terrorist acts? Certainly. Does he or she live next to us? Who knows? But if he or she is a Muslim, it seems he automatically bears watching. Several years ago not long after 9/11, a prominent journalist was asked whether getting on an airplane with someone in Muslim garb made him uneasy. He confessed that it did and his national news employer fired him.
The insidiousness of terrorism is both its anonymity and how it disrupts one’s natural inclinations, testing our limits of fairness and tolerance. If Muslims are committing the balance of atrocities, then all Muslims are terrorists and so if Mohammed is a Muslim, he must also be a terrorist. The glittering generalities of the day seem more and more to dominate our thinking.
As the world approaches the annual celebration of the birth of Christianity, whose paramount tenet is one of peace and love and acceptance, the irony is overwhelming. Those who insist that this nation is solely a Christian one, or who want to make it so, seem oblivious to why we are the world’s leading power – principally because of our tolerance for other beliefs as long as they follow those tenets. Three religions of our planet – Christianity, Jewish and Muslim – are sisters, stemming from the same root – Abraham.
The vastly overwhelming majority of Muslims are dedicated to the principles of the one God we share. One of those interviewed by Luntz put it well when he said those who preach Jihad and who commit the atrocities aren’t really members of his religion. Say a Christmas prayer for our true Muslim brothers and sisters.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at firstname.lastname@example.org .